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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
at the Duke of York’s

DESIRE UNDER THE BRIDGE
By MICHAEL COVENEY

  Ken Stott and Hayley Atwell/PH: Alastair Muir

It was an odd coincidence that Arthur Miller's great play and Steven Berkoff's stylized version of On the Waterfront opened within a few days of each other in the West End, the one a tale of mis-directed passion and betrayal in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, the other a vengeful ballet of redemption among the same 1950s community of longshoremen, immigrants and stool pigeons around the corner in Hoboken.

Berkoff caught the vitality and toughness of Budd Schulberg's script all right, but Lindsay Posner's scrupulously detailed and moving revival of A View from the Bridge was the real deal- any British actor is on a hiding to nothing as Eddie Carbone, the greatest performance of Michael Gambon's career so far, back in 1987, at the National Theatre.

But Ken Stott has inhabited the role so completely that he even swigs his beer straight from the bottle, surely a social solipsism. Otherwise, he presents a terrifying picture of a man on the run from himself, overtaken by a jealousy he doesn't understand, mixed up with suspicion of the young Sicilian Rodolpho, the boy his niece falls in love with, who "ain't right" and is "walking wavy."

There's an immediacy and a sweatiness about Stott's Eddie that brings Miller's play alive in an unexpected way: I'd never thought of the proximity of the living conditions to be a factor in the tragedy, and it's clear that Eddie's marriage to the saint-like Beatrice of Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (this fine American actress makes a welcome return to London, where she was last seen in the Donmar's revival of Grand Hotel) is also squeezed to breaking point. There's no room for anyone else any more.

The two cousins come for a few days and stay a few weeks. The way Miller arranges the timing of emotional crisis and domestic turmoil with teenager Catherine's bloom into womanhood is masterly, and Hayley Atwell's sudden sensuality is a powerful stage perfume, full compensation for her disappointing Major Barbara at the National last year. She's a Madonna to Eddie, an object of worship, forbidden fruit, a reason to live.

Lindsay Posner's production captures the full tragic tread of the narrative, without resorting to melodrama, so that Eddie's dilemma becomes almost comparable to that of Racine's Phaedra consumed by lust for her stepson. It creeps up on him, so that when he returns drunk at Christmas with a bottle of whisky lifted from the hold of one of the ships, he blunders into overdrive, kissing Catherine, then Rodolpho - to show the boy's a "pansy", or to reveal himself a little more, who knows? - all in one great slobbering, disastrous lurch about the stage.

Designer Christopher Oram, lighting designer Peter Mumford and soundtrack composer Adam Cork - bring a Donmar Warehouse-style atmospheric intensity to the action, which is mostly contained in the cramped living room leaning like a jetty into the hazy surround of street corners, a great brick wall, the distant docks. When Marco's cry goes up - "Give me back my name!" - and the knife is drawn, the stage seems populated by a whole community, clever use of extras and understudies.

The other key to the production's success is the calm, absorbed testimony of Allan Corduner as Alfieri the lawyer. He sets the tone with his beautiful speech at the start and can only stand helplessly by while the situation implodes. As social realism, it's hard to think of a better American play - except, of course, for one or two others of Arthur Miller.

 


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